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group study Dealing with Psychological Abuse

Group study openly invites people to learn and exchange thoughts together based on premises that are always explicitly pointed out, however loose they might be. Any fixed discussion outcomes aren't called for, but the intent is in personal growth and understanding. It's good to keep mindful and respectful of both what is and what isn't relevant for discussion though.

Earl Grey

Gonzo Daoist and Dharma Punk
How can we prevent psychological abuse? Why is psychological abuse difficult to recover from? How can the members of society help the abuse victims? What successful modalities and medical theories exist to treat the person recovering from abuse?

This group study has its starting premise in Western psychotherapy paradigm, but other traditional views from shamanistic soul retrieval to Confucianism and compassionate Buddhist counseling are welcome also. Witness accounts about successful abuse recovery are welcome.

This is an e-mail from a friend that highlights several types of abuse that are common and people should know about. It is not without coincidence that these are also techniques used by abusive teachers and schools, or in other words, cults.

After skimming through Judith Herman's Trauma and Recovery for an individual case analysis, I realized that a lot of people in emotionally abusive situations don't have the words to describe what they're going through. It's partly why they end up being stuck in the situation for a longer period of time or end up blaming themselves. I had discussions with trauma survivors who said that they wished they knew the word for "gaslighting" earlier.

Anyway, these terms can apply to both an emotionally abusive childhood or an emotionally abusive romantic relationship. Not all of these are psychological terms but they're in enough use in contemporary language that people in support groups will probably understand you.

1. Gaslighting - When a person constantly makes you doubt your memories, judgment, and reality instead of acknowledging your version of truth. This makes it easier for them to blame you for something they did.

2. Projection - When a person doesn't react to who you actually are, but to their own internal feelings about themselves or others unrelated to you.

3. Triangulation - When a person intentionally creates a scenario where two other people end up fighting for his/her attention. This could be in a relationship or in a family, say siblings fighting for a parent's attention. The two other people end up blaming each other or tearing each other down instead of recognizing that the abuser is the architect of the situation.

4. Neglect - The absence of a need being satisfied adequately. Example, when a child's presence is never acknowledged. This is not always intentional, but it can be an invisible form of abuse.

5. Minimization - When the abuser downplays the severity of a negative event they triggered, or downplays the feelings that the victims has. For example, pervasive school bullying can be minimized by the abuser as "just a prank" and tells the victim that they're overreacting.

6. Informed consent - Adults agree to do something together before they actually go ahead and do it. If one party withholds information relevant to what is being agreed upon, then that is not informed consent. That is what's called a bait and switch, which is basically like getting scammed.

7. Personal boundaries - The mental, emotional, and physical limits we have around ourselves to protect us from harm. Usually emotional abusers push these limits or get angry if these are enforced, and assert that their wants are more important than your needs.

8. Narcissistic supply - People on the narcissistic personality disorder spectrum have a pathological need for attention from others. They will seek attention even if it is destructive towards others, because they don't see the separation between self and other, and cannot regulate their own emotional needs. They will regularly trigger events, confrontations, and provoke a reaction, scandal, and confuse people around them. And when they receive this attention, they will gather social information about involved parties to instigate another event, confrontation or scandal to repeat the process.

9. Grooming - When an emotional abuser tests a potential victim, by pushing his or her boundaries and seeing how far they can take things. Think of a frog being slowly boiled in a pot of water--grooming is turning the heat on. This is also when the victim begins to see red flag behaviour or has the gut feeling that something isn't quite right, but he or she may dismiss them ("Oh I was overreacting") or think that the abuser was just joking. This can also be the time for the abuser to plant seeds of doubt in the victim's mind about their own reliability, competence, ability to live happily without the abuser, who they can trust, and so on.

10. Golden child and scapegoat - This often happens in a household with a narcissistic parent. It's a form of triangulation where the parent pits the two children against each other, but the golden child is the favoured child that can do no wrong, while the scapegoat is the child where everyone's problems are projected on. The golden child will begin to mirror the narcissistic parent and also abuse the scapegoat to win the affections of the parent.

11. Isolation - Some emotional abusers will isolate the victim so that he or cannot depend on others or use other resources to protect his or herself, or have regular contact with healthy normal relationships to compare the abusive dynamics with. This can be more obvious in the form of financial control, or it could be more subtle and the abuser can successfully convince the victim to cut off ties to friends and family.

12. Hot and cold - It's pulling a Jekyll and Hyde. When a person acts inconsistently and oscillates between affectionate behaviour and either complete withdrawal or outright hostility. The emotionally abusive person acts unpredictably so the victim never knows where he or she stands, and the victim will work hard to seek the "good side" of the abuser.

There are a lot more terms of course, but I hope that this at least makes it easier for folks to understand invisible or insidious dynamics by being able to finally put a name to them.

If you're a victim, you cannot change an abuser and you are not responsible for their actions. All you can do is disengage. Unfortunately it's hard for some especially if the abuser is your family (assholes end up having kids after all, unfortunately), but being able to manage the level of contact can help. You are not alone.

If you see yourself taking part in some of these abusive behaviours, you might not be conscious of them. You might have grown up in a dysfunctional household that taught these behaviours. Maybe you were the golden child. You may not be 100% responsible for your destructive behaviours, but you are 100% responsible to change for the better for the sake of everyone around you. Even if you intend to change, remember that people you have mistreated in the past are under no obligation to forgive you or to remain in contact with you.

Stay safe out there, kids. It's a weird world out there. Remember, no one is entitled to your body, time, or spirit. Healthy friendships/romantic relationships/family dynamics are filled with respect and mutual care. People are not who they say they are or the promises they make, but how they consistently treat you in the here and now.

And remember you are not responsible for other people's destructive behaviours no matter how convinced they are otherwise. Don't set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.
  • Loving-kindness
  • Equanimity

Earl Grey

Gonzo Daoist and Dharma Punk
This is a video of an abusive parent, but can also be applied to a situation I remember a friend told me about when a student talked to a head of a school about abuses being done by one of the instructors:

  • Equanimity

Earl Grey

Gonzo Daoist and Dharma Punk
I pondered making this a separate thread altogether, but I think I will revisit that option in the future should I choose to expand on this post regarding the cult of positive thinking.

Have you ever had people call you "negative" or "toxic" and seem to only view you through the lens of these or similar terms? Have you ever felt worse when someone seems to talk as though your problems are imaginary because of your attitude and that by having a positive outlook, your life will be much better?

This, friends, is toxic positivity. It is a lethal framework and exemplary form of abuse because it commonly makes use of several kinds of abuse: minimization, projecting, gaslighting, stonewalling, and hot and cold.

A toxic positive person can best be summarized as not having true joy or confidence, because having a positive attitude does not mean never getting angry, worrying, or having criticisms or dislikes. Real joy is not forced into a framework, it is a natural state of being, true confidence isn't about looking for positives, but being comfortable in knowing things will be okay whatever happens rather than hoping for the most positive outcome. The toxic positive hippie (hereafter referred to as just the hippie) by contrast is inherently unhappy and has no confidence, and thus employs what is ultimately just wishful thinking and a lot of denial.

The hippie isn't happy, so the hippie tries to control her intake of information and framework to be positive, as anything that triggers negative emotions, reactions, or thoughts is "toxic", whether it is actually harmful or not. This means you can be someone who has suffered a serious trauma or abuse, and the hippie will typically approach it in several ways: 1) ignore it and change the subject, 2) trivialize it and encourage the victim to "move on as it's in the past" or shame them into "being negative because they can't let go of the past", 3) shame or guilt the victim into adopting the toxic positive framework by saying things like "For every negative thing you say, also say two positive things", and 4) stonewall or cut out the victim altogether because it shows the inherent weakness of the toxic positive framework.

As we can see in the above, the hippie does not want to be happy, the hippie actually wants to be in control. The hippie is unable to derive her joy from within and naturally, and relies on forcing others into accepting her framework, lest they be designated as "negative" and "toxic" and push them out. To the hippie, anything she is unfamiliar and uncomfortable with is negative and toxic because she does not have any way of controlling it, let alone finding a way to protect her framework at all costs. Without her framework, the hippie quickly reveals her worries about the future and her self-worth and efforts made so far. Any reminders to be joyful and positive whether it's post-it notes on her bathroom mirror or immediately correcting someone's truth to reflect hers is necessary because she needs to filter again and again as reality is a scary place to the positive framework.

But as chapter 38 of the Daodejing (Gia translation) says:

A truly good man is not aware of his goodness,
And is therefore good.
A foolish man tries to be good,
And is therefore not good.

A truly good man does nothing,
Yet leaves nothing undone.
A foolish man is always doing,
Yet much remains to be done.

When a truly kind man does something, he leaves nothing undone.
When a just man does something, he leaves a great deal to be done.
When a disciplinarian does something and no one responds,
He rolls up his sleeves in an attempt to enforce order.

Therefore when Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is kindness.
When kindness is lost, there is justice.
When justice is lost, there ritual.
Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.
Knowledge of the future is only a flowery trapping of Tao.
It is the beginning of folly.

Therefore the truly great man dwells on what is real and not what is on the surface,
On the fruit and not the flower.
Therefore accept the one and reject the other.​

The hippie of toxic positivity is essentially a disciplinarian who forces her way or the highway.

As quoted earlier in the original post, "Don't set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm." If they can't support you, they should at least try to understand you, and failing that, then they must at least try to accept you. The hippie tries to change you not because she believes your life will be better, but because her life will be more convenient if she ignores your suffering and controls your emotions and headspace.

So if a toxic positivity hippie tries to police your thoughts, emotions, and being, a swift kick in the crotch and few slaps in the face are in order, because yes: your feelings matter, god damnit.

EDIT: I am adding a trailer and reference to the recent sitcom, Kevin Can Fuck Himself, in which it shows the contrast between the abusive framework of someone in their positive sitcom life and someone who deals with reality. This is a show about a man who is so obsessed with his happy sitcom framework that it has real consequences and is abusive towards his long-suffering wife.

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  • Equanimity


How can the members of society help the abuse victims? What successful modalities and medical theories exist to treat the person recovering from abuse?

Abuse, from a Daoist Alchemical perspective causes a kind of contraction at the Jing level.

If bad enough, the unfoldment of jing freezes and people tend to stop developing physically... Like the 40 yr old that looks like a 12 yr old in the structure of their body (though obviously skin and everything else ages). The freeze is usually at the age of the abuse. Sometimes - depending on the conditions of the situation, people armour up around the abuse - both in body posture, but also with fat, muscles etc.

Unfortunately the solution to this is never straightforward.

It takes a very skilled practitioner that can assist in unwinding such a deep wound.

The process I have been following allows for such traumas to fall away by themselves - pretty much unnoticed. Sometimes you feel like there's a weight lifted off your shoulders, but you have no idea what it was. Sometimes you don't notice anything until you realise you're not reacting to things in the old way anymore.

But would I say this is a worthy route to dealing with trauma? No, not really... It takes a lot of work, and if you're aiming towards something other than 'the divine' you'll likely not succeed anyway.

One thing I think is important is finding the impulses that drive abusive behaviour in ourselves.

We all have them.

We may have never been abusive - but we all have the basic building blocks for such behaviour.

It usually stems from the base desires for power, status, sex. Once that aspect of us is empowered with either a bit of extra Qi - or actual social status, money or fame - suddenly these aspects get a bit of momentum, and if we're not careful can escalate into abuse. It is almost never obvious that you're abusing someone. It almost always feels justified and non-malevolent.

When weak people who haven't felt power condemn things like rules, ethics and morals - while decrying bad behaviour - it is because they've never met the part of themselves that could (intentionally or not) become abusive.

It can be subtle.

Wanting to control your loved ones in some direction (and justifying it with "I just want the best for them!")

Giving advice on life situations to friends ("you deserve so much better than him")

Giving that slightly flirty grin to an attractive student (even if they show interest in you)

These seem like small, innocuous things - but these are all seeds - and when watered with Qi or power, they can grow into abusive behaviours.

This doesn't apply only to other people. It applies to aspects within ourself. How we treat ourselves internally can also be abusive.

So what I've been taught is to carefully examine the motives for my behaviour. Examine interactions I have with people (usually at the end of the day)... Was I trying to control their opinion of me? Was I trying to make them find me interesting or attractive? Was my action carried out of an impulse to be kind or helpful, or to earn favour, or gain status or look good?

This kind of self analysis should only be done if you feel comfortable and confident in yourself. Otherwise it can feel very oppressive. But when you're brimming with strength - this is when to do it. Aim for bringing motives into consciousness, rather than changing them. Examine the underlying patterns and learn to detect them: 'I tend to play up when someone attractive gives me attention'... 'I tend to try to compete when relating to someone of a high social status'... 'I tend to become supplicatory to older women'... etc etc etc.

Don't change and contrive your behaviour - but do get insight into it. It will naturally change as long as you're doing your training, and as long as you're able to take things lightly, with humour and humility.
  • Loving-kindness

Earl Grey

Gonzo Daoist and Dharma Punk
“Covert or ‘vulnerable’ narcissists tend to be more introverted than grandiose narcissists,” she says. “But they share the same classic traits. They’re just manifested at a far more subtle, workaday level. Theirs is a much more laser-targeted revenge. But they’re mask wearers: other people will say: ‘What do you mean? They’re lovely.’”

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. “Learning to spot covert narcissism can be more difficult and takes a certain level of specific awareness,” Davies says. “With the more overt types, it is an almost unapologetic ‘this is me’ presentation. With covert narcissists, their focus on meeting their own needs is masked by more subtle manipulation and control techniques. They can come across as sweet and innocent, even shy and introverted, and can also seem very caring and helpful. They can be the shoulder to cry on, but will use what you share with them against you further down the road, and ultimately, with the aim of manipulating you to feel indebted and grateful. Thus providing them with admiration and gratitude – narcissistic supply.”
So what other features distinguish these subtly appealing types with their silent weaponry? While psychologists agree that the underlying pathology is the same, the different presentation can include other aspects – guilt-tripping, generosity as a means to control and feigning illness to gain sympathy. As Davies says, the covert narcissist can be a “silent intruder and silent seducer.”
“In my experience the covert is far more dangerous than a grandiose,” says Slade. “Not only because they are harder to spot, but crucially, since they are more shame-based, they are more easily triggered into what’s known as ‘narcissistic rage’, which drives them to take spectacular revenge.”

A sense of victimhood appears to be primary, in which the narcissist will persecute from the victim position, often denigrating themselves and thereby fishing for reassurance. “Since they are poor problem-solvers, I see coverts resorting to the ‘victim’ role as a semi-conscious and very dark tool in their toolkit,” says Slade. “Once in victim mode they are emotionally persuasive way beyond the ability of a neurotypical person. The sheer effective power of coverts’ ability to manipulate other people never ceases to amaze me.”

“Covert narcissism is really a manipulation through victimhood,” says Dr Ramani Durvasula, who, in her own words, is “on a mission to demystify and dismantle the toxic influence of narcissism on all our lives” and runs a YouTube channeldedicated to the subject. She uses the term “vulnerable” as well as “covert” for these narcissists. “You may be drawn in because you feel kind of sorry for them, bad for them. It can be very empowering for you to think you want to rescue them… Most people will not initially see them through the lens of narcissism – their conception is focused solely on the traditional grandiose narcissist – that shiny, charismatic, confident, charming, witty, attractive, textbook narcissist. This misses those who, in fact, often present as somewhat depressed, victimised or even needy… However, they have the same themes as their classical and grandiose buddies.”
  • Equanimity

Earl Grey

Gonzo Daoist and Dharma Punk
Here is a very good piece on dominant emotional style:

During difficult times, we often find ourselves defaulting to a single, dominant emotion, even when another might be more “logical.” For example, your default emotion may be anxiety, which is what you’ll feel during the stressful times, even if a more appropriate emotional reaction might be anger, sadness, or frustration.

This is your dominant emotional style, said Alice Boyes, Ph.D., author of the book “The Healthy Mind Toolkit,” in a recent article she wrote for Psychology Today. In times of stress, a “dominant emotion” is the emotion we default to and is often linked to how we interpret and react to situations. Going back to the anxiety example, your reaction may be due to a tendency to blame yourself for situations; if your dominant emotion is anger, that might be due to a tendency to assume others are trying to hurt you.

Why being able to feel a range of emotions matters

We default to our dominant emotion because that’s what we know and what is most familiar to us. However, it’s important to be able to experience a range of emotions, as this is often the key to a healthier, happier life.

One way to think about emotions is to think about all of the different emotions as being part of a balanced ecosystem. Within an ecosystem there are many different components, all of which are important for a healthy system. If this balance gets disrupted though, with one emotion becoming heavily dominant, then the overall health of the system gets thrown off balance.

As studies are showing, people who experience a broad range of emotions tend to have better mental and physical health, which includes lower rates of depression. One possible reason is that a mixture of emotions, even if they are negative ones, can help prevent a single emotion from completely taking over.

Two options for reducing your dominant emotion

Feeling too much of one emotion is exhausting and can leave you burnt out. According to Boyes, there are two options that can help you step back from your dominant emotion.

The first option is to think through other possible interpretations of the situation. As Boyes notes, her dominant emotion is anxiety, where she will usually blame herself. However, when she slows down and evaluates the situation, trying to think through other reasons for what is going on, this allows her other emotions to surface.

The second option is to focus on the quieter feelings, the ones that have been drowned out by your dominant emotion. “If I tune into my smaller emotions, they rise to the surface more,” Boyes wrote. These other feelings can help you come up with different solutions to your problem, while also helping you to have a more balanced perspective.

As Boyes points out, these strategies for dialing down your dominant emotion can have a lot of positive benefits. This includes feeling a sense of relief, enhancing your creativity, identifying new ways to problem-solve, as well as motivating you to try alternative approaches that you might not otherwise think of.

As Boyes noted, when it comes to feeling these other emotions, “It’s okay if feeling your non-dominant emotions leaves you feeling unsettled and perhaps a little at sea. You can feel unsettled and still also benefit.”

My dominant emotions are anxiety and fear, with a lot of anger afterwards, and sadness--a direct result of abuse and trauma.

One thing about training in the internal arts is that my own practice helps with the fight or flight response on a physiological level. This leaves me in a visceral state of filtering everything through the lens of the thoughts, which remain even if the emotions aren't there first. The problem with this is that the thoughts then recreate the emotions.

What I now have is a lot of sadness, anger, then sadness.

@God S shared a very good insight:

To get rid of suffering you have to experience it, it is much easier to expand and work with your nature when you are actually hard pressed down and can feel your limitations.

All those meditators who remove suffering, while trying hard to move their asses to a more comfortable place are just avoiding the issue forever, instead of dealing with it.

You can wear a mask of spirituality like Damo, live in the most comfortable conditions and delude yourself that you are free from the mundane, don't teach for money and actually not be a worldly person at all. But it is actually all conditional. Hard to verbalize this idea, but imagine if you have a chain on your neck: one guy with a chain on his neck sits in the dogs house, another guy sits with the chain on his neck in a luxury castle with model girls around. One is unhappy and suffering, another is happy and enjoying his life. but the true matter is that they both have a thick chain on their necks and are not much different in their core. Self-development as we see it, is not about moving from dog house to a castle full of top models, it is about getting rid of this chain.

Identifying your dominant emotion is the psychological framework.

The lojong of Buddhism is one of the essential practices, which may not be fancy as sutras or mantras and rituals, but are one of the key pillars of developing a strong and awakened mind.

According to @Miroku , these are the ones he recommends:

  • Equanimity
  • Compassion

Roots of Virtue

At Your Service
Staff member
Some time ago I had a discussion with my niece who was acting a bit cranky at his mother. It's always unfortunate to see when children don't fully appreciate the benefits which their parents' provide, so I spontaneously came up with the following to remind him of why everyone should be very grateful for their parents and community elders for having been brought up into these.

Three important life lessons that parents give:

  • Unconditional love: having a sense of shelter and inner security
  • Failing gracefully: how to turn unfavorable experiences into learning instead of crushing the heart
  • Always trying your best: diligent effort with good deeds and ethical work always brings sweet long-term fruit which is pleasant to share with everyone

These qualities are really important in dealing with abusive and otherwise stressful conditions. Of course, we should note that not everyone is brought up in a manner that endows these skills, possibly due to unskillful parenting, abuse, or neglect by the elders, which probably constitutes to the bulging mental health issues and decreasing resiliency around the consumer societies.

These lacking qualities could and should be trained under one's own conscious volition. There is nothing extraordinary in that except refusing to blame oneself or others (after the initial impression of having mucked up something and that things should be corrected), not worrying over misfortune that has come by and may come by, and allowing oneself to have a good work ethic despite not wishing for nor receiving any praise or personally pleasant return for one's efforts.

These thoughts came up spontaneously and I don't know if similar observations have been formalized elsewhere, but I'm confident they have substantial truth and can be very helpful.
  • Loving-kindness